Notes and Editorial Reviews
Contains synopsis in three languages and French libretto with English translation.
Roger Norrington, cond; Bruce Ford (
); Laura Claycomb (
); Franz Hawlata (
); Monica Groop (
); Christopher Maltman (
); Ralf Lukas (
); Ekkehard Wagner (
); Leipzig Middle German RCh; Stuttgart RSO
HÄNSSLER 93.105 (2 CDs: 137:34
) Live: Berlin 9/19/2003
When Liszt became music director at Weimar, one of his first initiatives was the revival of
, which had disappeared after four performances at the Opéra over 1838–39. Berlioz revised the score, retaining its original order of scenes and two-act format, and the work was successfully given in March 1852. For further performances in November, however, Liszt suggested abbreviating some of the dramatic entanglements of the second act and making
a three-act work. To accommodate him, Berlioz, conducting in London, authorized the changes while shifting several numbers he did not wish to lose, thus making a dramaturgical hodgepodge. Alterations also ran to the tissue of the music, with Berlioz ironing out the rhythmic audacities of the Opéra score to facilitate the Weimar performance. The result begins well but tends to scrappiness after the Roman carnival scene, making an absurdity of the drama—the casting of Perseus takes but an hour rather than the day given in the Paris version—and lessening Cellini’s stature from hero to blustering blowhard. But with the publication of the Weimar version—in Germany in 1856 and by Choudens in 1863—the expedients adopted for a particular performance became, so to speak, set in stone. As David Cairns remarked, “As it is, we are justified in regarding ‘Benvenuto Cellini’ as one of those works about which their authors never said the last word.” If the Weimar version is less than satisfying in terms of narrative, motivation, and pacing, Berliozian coruscations can still light the way to thrilling theater.
Worth mentioning, a generally superb live 1964 performance of the Weimar version by the BBC Symphony led by Antal Dorati, with Richard Lewis, Joan Carlyle, and Josephine Veasey in the leads, sung in Arthur Jacobs’s well-turned English translation, was issued in 1989 (Music & Arts 618,
13:6), confirming, with the present issue, that
, even bowdlerized, is still potent. No longer available, it is well worth tracking down.
Considering the disarray in which Berlioz left the score, the recording industry has dealt handsomely with
. Colin Davis’s pre-Sir 1972 recension triumphantly recreated the
version—i.e., with spoken dialogue—Berlioz initially had in mind as he composed the bulk of the music, incorporating improvements from the Opéra and Weimar revisions (Philips 416 955,
12:4). A generation on, John Nelson’s 2005 recorded performance (Virgin 45706,
28:5), drawing on archival material—including a half-hour of music unavailable to Davis—recreated the Paris Opéra version while also incorporating Berlioz’s additions for Weimar to offer the fullest presentation of
But here is Sir Roger Norrington’s go at the Weimar version, in French—presumably because performing materials were readily available and required no musicological judgment calls. The booklet affords no explanation, no annotation, offering a synopsis in three languages and the French libretto with English translation. The performance picks up speed only as it goes. The overture lurches without sparkle or élan. The first act’s grumbling fugato drags rather than percolates. Laura Claycomb is brilliant, confirming that Teresa is blonde, though Frank Hawlata’s Balducci and Christopher Maltman’s Fieramosca are under-characterized. The electricity usually accompanying Cellini’s entrance is missing. Ekkehard Wagner’s Innkeeper is a standout, though he doesn’t efface the memory of Hugues Cuénod’s cajoling wheedler (for Davis), from whom Wagner has evidently taken lessons. The Goldsmiths’ Anthem is studied rather than the incandescent burst it can be in avid hands. And so on. Norrington seems tired, while the generally unobtrusive audience applauds star turns and scene ends dutifully, without enthusiasm. Not until the Roman carnival do the fireworks begin—the performance slips into gear and goes for broke as the first-act malingerers step boldly into their roles, the pace quickens, colors blaze, Berliozian
crackles, and, rife with suspense, tension escalates as the plot tautens to the too-brief but still whelming conclusion with the reprise of the Goldsmiths’ Anthem lifting, at last, into Dionysian affirmation. The aroused audience is warmly responsive, and you, too, may come to the end cheering.
If the first half of this production is lackluster with occasional highlights, the second catches hold of the Berliozian sublime in plenary measure—and that is sufficient to be recommendable. The aural perspective is from the podium (one hears an occasional page being turned) with stage business and orchestra well integrated— vibrantly compelling, gutsy, and closely detailed even through the riotous peaks of the carnival. An estimable appendix to the Davis and Nelson sets.
FANFARE: Adrian Corleonis
Works on This Recording
Benvenuto Cellini by Hector Berlioz
Ralf Lukas (Bass Baritone),
Laura Claycomb (Soprano),
Franz Hawlata (Bass),
Bruce Ford (Tenor),
Monica Groop (Mezzo Soprano),
Christopher Maltman (Baritone)
Stuttgart Radio Symphony Orchestra,
Middle German Radio Chorus Leipzig
Written: 1834-1837; France
Venue: Live Royal Albert Hall, London, England
Notes: Version: 1852
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